As the issue of gun control has flooded Washington since the Sandy Hook shooting, a lot of people have been wondering if lawmakers were actually serious about addressing mental health as well. The answer is yes. On Thursday, a group of seven senators led by Democrat Debbie Stabenow and Republican Roy Blunt will reportedly introduce a new bill meant to upgrade our nation's mental health care system. More specifically, BuzzFeed's Rebecca Berg says that the legislation will "expand access to mental health facilities and raise standards for mental health services." This means opening more clinics, updating existing clinics and, in Berg's words, an effort "to expand access to mental health facilities and raise standards for mental health services."
These are all good ideas, but is it enough? That is and will probably always be an unanswerable question. (Is any approach to health care enough, as long as people are still getting sick?) However, we'll soon find out from the mental health community whether or not they think it's even a decent effort. The fact that Silver Linings Playbook director David Russell, the father of a bipolar son, will help kick off the campaign to pass a mental health care reform bill is great for building buzz, though we doubt it will win the gang of seven as many accolades as an effective bill would. But again, we can't speculate about the bill's potential impact until we've seen the darned thing.
One thing is for sure: America's mental health care system needs help. Without even taking the recent string of mass shootings into account, it's obvious that the majority of Americans with mental health problems are not getting the care that they need. Michael Fitzpatrick, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) recently told the Christian Science Monitor that the first step would be making the mental health care system more of a part of the regular health care system. "We need to be proactive, rather than reactive: How do we reach out to families in trouble, and how do they reach out to the mental-health system?" Fitzpatrick added that only 39 percent of Americans that have a mental health diagnosis and need care are actually in treatment. Imagine if only 39 percent of people who broke their arms actually got it set and put in a cast. What would Congress do then?